Realizing the Dream: The Realities of Progress in Black America

by  Amber Johnson Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an invigorating speech on August 28th, ...

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an invigorating speech on August 28th, 1963. Coined the “I Have A Dream Speech,” his orations on that day have become a hallmark of eloquent civil disobedience. King’s speech touched on many topics, from voting rights to police brutality, but the most basic principle behind his speech was justice; justice for the black citizens of the United States of America. 

When comparing the situation of black citizens in 1963 to that of black citizens in 2013, it is important to note both the advancements and the relative stagnation in the achievement of justice. Following King’s speech, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and The Civil Rights Acts of 1968, 1982, and 1991 were passed. All of these landmark pieces of legislation directly impacted the civil rights of black citizens of the United States. However, when evaluated for effectiveness, it must be taken into account, that the many laws and statutes put into place to safe-guard the rights of black citizens, have not completely uprooted discriminatory practices.

In 2013, it is illegal to stop a person from voting simply because of the color of their skin. The reduction of overt racial discrimination is definitely an achievement of one of King’s dreams, but total justice is still very much far out on the horizon. There are many laws and policies in place that either disproportionately prohibit black persons from voting or make their votes ineffective. Felony disenfranchisement disproportionately affects black citizens, as black people only make up about 13% of the United States’ total population yet they make up about thirty-eight% of the United States’ prison population. The majority of states support federal disenfranchisement that ends after the completion of probation. However, many black ex-convicted felons do not make it to the end of their probationary period, with 58.8% of black releasees recidivating within one year compared to only 33.5% of white male releasees.

When analyzing the practices surrounding the eligible black voter population of the United States, there is a common practice known as “gerrymandering” that has disproportionately affected black voters. This practice occurs in many places, but particularly in the southern states, where white Republican politicians draw district lines in such a way as to congregate black Democratic voters into highly concentrated districts so their votes will not affect the surrounding Republican districts during elections. This practice, although controversial, is popular, and even more so due to the recent striking of section 4b, and in effect section 5, of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 due to unconstitutionality, which means there are no oversight measures in place to observe and prohibit states with a history of discrimination in voting procedures from enacting discriminatory policies. Superficially, black people are being allowed to exercise their right to vote, but when more thoroughly analyzed, black votes are being made negligible systematically.

The injustices extend past voting rights. Another part of King’s Dream was equal opportunity, especially in the realm of education. He believed in desegregation of schools, hoping for a future in which white children and black children would be regarded as equal and judged by their values and not their pigment. However, it is a very uncritical conclusion to draw to say that because children of all races are now freely able to attend school with one another, that King’s dream has been realized. With mass under-funding and school closures disproportionately affecting children of color, most of which being black and Hispanic children, equal opportunity for quality education is still a dream to be realized. The official closing of forty-seven Chicago public schools in August of 2013 disproportionately affected black students, with 88% of the student body of the schools listed for closure being made up of black students while only 41.7% of the entire Chicago public school student body is made up of black students.

Overall, it would be quite pessimistic and frankly, ignorant to conclude that none of King’s dreams for the future have been realized. The issues he discussed fifty years ago were and still are deeply imbedded into the social framework of American society. The legislative and cultural steps that have been taken to rectify the injustices done against the black citizens of the United States are only the beginning, but they have been a strong and effective start at reparations. The realization of King’s dream is a process, one in need of inclusive practice and constant discussion. The biggest danger to King’s dream is ignoring the long and arduous journey it has taken to get to the current state of affairs and denying that the journey is still very much in its infantry. King’s call for justice must continue to be heeded in order for true equality at all social levels to be realized.

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